Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike
At one point or another, we all knew someone like Gary King – the guy who peaked in high school, who still thinks he’s the center of attention and that his crude sense of humor is still funny, and spends his time trying to recapture the glory days.
Who better to take this kind of character and center a genuinely exciting and touching movie around him than the one and only Edgar Wright? This man has essentially built a career off if making movies about slackers, degenerates, and try-hards. Shaun of the Dead was about a man unmotivated to make a change for the better. Hot Fuzz‘s Nicholas Angel took his job far too seriously. Scott Pilgrim was self-centered and self-deprecating.
And Gary King (Simon Pegg) just might be the worst of them all. It’s been over two decades since high school, yet he still seems stuck in it – so much so that he rounds up his old group of friends in an attempt to complete the legendary local pub crawl known as the Golden Mile, which culminates at the World’s End. The group had a go at it once as teenagers, but couldn’t finish. Upon returning to the small town of Newton Haven, however, they begin to suspect that the locals have been replaced by extraterrestrial lifeforms bent on turning the entire planet into a state of complacency.
I remember when this movie first came out nearly four years ago. It was the first of the Cornetto Trilogy that was releasing since I had been introduced to it. It was particularly bittersweet because it was also the last installment of this unofficial series. I drove 45 minutes away just to find a theater that was actually playing it.
And ever since, I can safely say that this is not only one of my all-time favorite comedies, but also, by far, Edgar Wright’s most underrated film. Don’t get me wrong – this received plenty of critical praise when it first came out, but it still seems unable to draw as much appreciation as the first two films ever since then.
Here, Wright, who once again co-wrote this movie with Simon Pegg, found the sweet spot in terms of tone. No one makes a movie like Edgar Wright, and it could be said that he’s been able to craft his own distinct tone that no one else could replicate. Each one of his movies, and particularly the ones in the Cornetto Trilogy, start out as witty comedies before transitioning for a more serious, drama and action-heavy third act.
With The World’s End, Wright strikes the perfect balance between action, drama, and comedy. It’s one of his funniest films, but also his most heartfelt.
What’s most impressive about all of this, is that the drama and character development largely rests on the shoulders of Gary King, who should have been Wright’s most unlikable protagonist to date. He’s reckless, obnoxious, and infuriatingly juvenile. But what makes him interesting and fun to watch is how he’s written.
Nearly every line out of his mouth his hysterical. There’s a brilliant sequence at the beginning of the film that introduces King and our cast of key supporting characters. This sequence swiftly establishes who each of them are, where they are in life, and their relationships with Gary.
And what we learn about Gary, is that he’s exactly the kind of guy you’d want to leave in high school. He’s loud, crude, and has absolutely no filter. For the characters he interacts with, you’ll sympathize, but because you’re just an observer, you’ll find him endlessly entertaining.
I firmly believe that this is Simon Pegg’s best performance to date. I’ve reviewed plenty of his films in the past, and in each and every one of those reviews, I’ve taken the time to gush about this man’s criminally-underappreciated talent. This performance is a testament to that. Here, Pegg is able to flex his full range as an actor, completely giving himself over to this role and delivering not only one of the best comedic performances to date, but also a surprisingly strong dramatic one, as well.
There’s more to Gary than you’d initially expect. He has a backstory that’s touched upon in a pivotal scene during the finale that will completely win you over to his character and help you to understand why he’s the way that he is. Even if you can’t relate, it’ll still tug at your heartstrings.
Nick Frost is also fantastic, as usual. And what’s even better, is that he gets to play against type. In these Cornetto films, he’s played the dopey, dim-witted sidekick. Here, he and Pegg seemed to have switched roles. This time, Pegg is the idiot, and Frost is the sensible one. It’s such an inventive way to play with the dynamic and chemistry between these two actors.
As the film moves along, showcasing Wright’s signature fast pacing, energetic direction, and stylish editing, there comes a point where it’ll completely catch you off guard, especially if you’re unaware of what this movie was about in the first place. The first 30 minutes or so would have you believe that this movie is simply about a group of estranged high school friends trying to reconnect and recapture old memories.
And then the twist happens. The small town of Newton Haven isn’t just a relic of the past. The strange sense of deja vu grows to eerie heights for our characters, until they discover, in an incredible and out-of-the-blue fight sequence in a bar bathroom, that the townsfolk have been replaced by alien robots.
… Then again, “robot” means “slave”, and they’re not slaves. They’re very happy.
And therein lies the central themes of The World’s End; the ideas and messages that give the film a strong emotional core. This movie finds the hero in the 9 to 5 worker – the guy who spends his days working in a bland office working a thankless job. Gary may be obnoxious, but it’s his quest to find excitement and adventure in life that ultimately redeems him. He seeks freedom and individuality, and his friends may not know it, but they do, too. This film says that it’s our flaws, of which Gary in particular has no shortage of, that makes us unique.
I love the Cornetto Trilogy for many reasons, but one of the main ones is for its heart. Each of these three movies will split your sides from making you laugh so hard and so consistently, but they’ll hook you even further through their ability to speak to you on a deeper level.
The World’s End does that the best out of the three. As the night goes on and the characters dig further into the crawl, and the mystery, the film never loses sight of its comedy, action, and science-fiction aspirations. All three of these genres are fully-realized, and this film works perfectly in each of them.
The Verdict: The World’s End is a hilarious, inventive, thrilling, and touching conclusion to the unofficial Cornetto Trilogy. It showcases Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost at their very best, delivering the laughs and the action perhaps even more consistently than the previous two films. It rounds out a perfect trilogy of perfect comedies, and it’ll have you yearning for more from this team, who have delivered three of the best films in multiple genres.